Last weekend was the Formula Mazda debut of Maryland racer Pete Olson, testing a 130mph Formula Mazda racecar at the Jim Russell Racing Driver’s School during an ARC [Advanced Racing Course] at the famous Sears Point raceway in Sonoma, California. With a total of twelve challenging turns, a 150 foot drop-off in the infamous “carousel”, and a series of high-speed esses in which Formula Mazda racecars reach over 100mph through the turns, the Sears Point racetrack [now known as Infineon Raceway] hosts NASCAR’s only road race of the season.
The Jim Russell School has produced many a world champion, including Canadian Jacques Villeneuve [winner of the 1995 Indy 500 and 1997 F1 World Championship, son of F1 driver Gilles Villeneuve who died tragically during race practice in Zolder, Belgium in 1982].
Olson received a fully sponsored test at the Infineon Raceway as the result of winning the Jim Hall Karting 2002 Fall Sprint Championship. “I really want to thank everyone at JHR for giving me the opportunity to test in Formula Mazda” said Olson. “I think that I made some real breakthroughs this weekend in the formula cars, and I have Jim Hall Karting [www.jhrkartracing.com] to thank for that. Of course, I should also thank my very first sponsor, my father. He sponsored my first championship weekend, and his support of my racing career has been an inspiration to me.”
Although Olson has years of experience in karts, as well as Superbike and RT/2000 experience, last weekend was Olson’ s first drive in the powerful Formula Mazda racecars capable of cornering at an incredible 2.5 Gs.
In an outstanding display of fast race driving, Olson set the fastest lap times in his ARC. But Sunday’s results didn’t come easily, as he battled with Canadian Endre Koszec for the fastest lap times throughout the weekend. Olson pushed the limit all weekend in the cockpit of his Formula Mazda racecar [see video clip].
“Endre and I were trading tenths [of seconds] on each lap. He is an incredible driver, a real natural. And as Endre and I agree, being out on the track with someone fast really makes you push your limits in order find new ones. I mean, racing is all about competing, and that competition feeling inside of you gives you the motivation to break through personal barriers.”
Olson’s weekend included several black flags for overly aggressive passes, as well as out-braking a seasoned Formula Mazda race driver from 120 to 30mph in turn seven, which resulted in the three-year FMazda veteran sliding off the track into a wall of cones.
“Again, it is the competition that drives me…to be the best, to be the fastest. Sometimes, maybe I have made some kind of bad judgment when passing another driver. But if there is an opening, I will take it. You cannot win if you are behind someone. And if you do not practice the way that you will race, then you will lose, when the key moment comes in a race. And as for the out-braking, that was never my fault, it was never my responsibility. And that, you can see in a video [two of Olson’s lapping sessions were captured on digital video]. It is obvious that he thought he could out-brake me, but he misjudged the pass. Through karting, I think that I have developed a good feel for manual brakes [editor’s note: manual brakes are not power assisted, and require a significant amount of force to reach a maximum braking power of more than 1G]. Also, in the RT/2000, thanks to dicing with Pace [Jim Pace, 24 Hours of Le Mans prototype racer and Porsche factory GT3 racecar driver], I learned how to use the brakes to the maximum effect while braking from 130 to 30mph at the end of Laguna Seca’s long straight, in October.”
Overall, Olson was very satisfied with the results of the weekend, and was told by instructors that he should compete in the Formula Mazda Championship Race Series as the result of his incredible driving. On a track where the average race driver laps at more than 2 minutes at the end of a weekend in the Formula Mazda racecars Olson was more than ten seconds ahead, lapping at an average time close to 1:50 on a “slick” track that had recently been swept clean by torrential rains. As a result, Olson was competing with lap times of FMazda veterans of multiple seasons [Olson’s spent Friday’s session racing in the rain. Professional photos can be viewed at http://peteolson.com/MorePictures].
Despite the temptation for victory in the Formula Mazda Series, Olson has his sights set on something even bigger: the 2004 China Formula Renault Championship Race Series.
The talented Maryland racer received yet more encouragement to race the widely televised Formula Renault series after having lunch with Serge Shleikin, an Eastern European driver currently competing in 400hp turbocharged formula cars in the Formula Audi race series in Europe [http://www.formula-palmer-audi.com].
“It was great talking with Shleikin, he is really on his way” said Olson. “He is just a step below F1, he really knows racing and how the business works. I’d love to race against him, I think it would be a real challenge. He encouraged me to compete in Formula Renault, and I think he knows as well as anyone that it is a highly competitive series that creates world champions.”
Formula Renault was Finnish driver Kimmi Raikonnen’s stepping stone to F1, after only his first season in Formula Renault. Raikonnen finished the recent 2003 F1 season just two points behind Michael Shumacher, this year’s F1 World Champion.
Will Olson make it to the top in the footsteps of the Finnish champion? Only time will tell. But Olson’s ability to pilot the incredible 160mph Formula Renault racecar may be the determining factor in the continuance of his professional career.
We wish him the best of luck in his racing endeavors in Asia next spring.
For more information on Pete Olson, visit his website at: http://www.peteolson.com/.